The Need for Women Judges in the Higher Judiciary

16 Jun 2021  Read 7828 Views

It took almost 39 years for India to have a woman judge in the Supreme Court of India. And by the time India gets its first woman CJI, it would have completed 77 long years as one of the three pillars of Independent & democratic India. So it is high time that while appointing the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court, equal representation should be given to the women in the judiciary. The higher judiciary should have a reservation policy for women. When we compare the higher and lower judiciary, we can see that while the lower judiciary has 27% of female judges, the High Courts have only 12% and the Supreme Court has only 4 women judges out of 33. As we reach closer to the top of the judiciary pyramid, we see fewer women representations. 

Women in Judiciary

  • Out of the sanctioned strength of 34 in the Supreme Court of India, it currently has four women judges- Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice BV Nagarathna & Justice Bela M Trivedi which is the highest ever in the top court's history.

  • A woman has never been elected as the Chief Justice of India yet. The figure is consistently low across higher judiciary.

  • According to data from the Union Ministry of Law & Justice, out of the total 677 sitting judges in both the Supreme Court and high courts, only 81 are women. This makes out the representation of women judges in the total working strength to a mere 12%.

  • Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana and Uttarakhand have High Courts where there are no sitting women judges.

  • The first female judge to be appointed in the Supreme Court was Justice M. Fathima Beevi from Kerala in 1989.

  • She was followed by Justice Sujata V. Manohar from Maharashtra in 1994 and in 2000, Justice Ruma Pal was elected from West Bengal. In 2010, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra from Bihar was appointed & In 2014, Justice Ranjana Desai from Bombay was appointed.

  • For the first time in Indian history, three women judges together were appointed to the Apex Court recently. Amongst the three, BV Nagarathna can be the first woman CJI in the year 2027

But Why do women judges not progress to the higher levels?

While it is difficult to pinpoint why women are not appointed in the higher judiciaries, there are several factors that have an impact on the appointment. Many states have reservation provisions for women in the lower judiciary. This reservation policy is not prevalent in the Supreme Court and the various High Courts. Reservation quota for women is one of the factors that encourages and facilitates more women to enter the system. In states where other supporting factors are present in sufficient measure, the women’s quota helps to bridge the gap of gender representation. More women tend to enter the lower judiciary at the entry-level because of the method of recruitment through an entrance examination. The higher judiciary has a collegium system, which is tended to be opaquer and therefore is like to reflect bias. 

  • Factors such as family responsibilities and age also impact the elevation of women judges from the lower judicial services to the higher courts. 

  • According to Soumya Sahu, a civil judge in Madhya Pradesh, a lot of women enter the service very late, which makes their chances of making it to the High Courts or Supreme Court bleak. 

  • Again, there are some women who are not able to focus on their growth as a judge because of their responsibilities towards their families even after joining the service.

  • Women judges are not exempted from “leaking pipeline”- a term used to describe how employed women quit their jobs mid-career. 

  • Direct recruitment from the bar through which a quarter of the district judges are appointed, is similarly by the eligibility criteria that fails to take into consideration the differential familial expectations from women. 

To be a candidate for district judge, an advocate should have a minimum of seven years of practice. This criterion solely disqualifies most of the women advocates because of the social responsibilities vested on them through marriage and motherhood which prevents them from having the required seven years of continuous practice in the field.

Not enough Women Representation

Lawyers from the bar to the bench form a significant proportion of the judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. However, it is to be noted that the number of women advocates in the country is still low. While it is difficult to get the exact number of women in the legal field as a whole, a news report of 2020 estimated that women make up only 15% of the total enrolled advocates in India. 

Although there is not that much difference between the number of women and men entering the legal profession, not all law graduates turn to litigation with some taking into consideration the work in corporate law firms and in-house counsel positions.

Lawyer and Co-founder of the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project, Nikita Sonavane stated that the Courts were not built to cater to anyone but the upper caste men. 

However, the problem of discrimination is not only limited to the gender-biased design but also extends to other aspects of the judicial system. This includes facing problem of gender biasness on an everyday basis to the workplace sexual harassment. In 2015, a woman magistrate in Delhi was allegedly sexually harassed by a male lawyer who mocked her status and even threatened to sexually assault her.

All these factors, along with others contribute to the decreasing number of women in litigation which inevitably leads to the low number of women judges in the higher judiciary.

Need for more women in Judiciary

With more women in the courts, gender discrimination is expected to reduce. By their presence, women judges are able to enhance the legitimacy of the courts, sending a powerful signal that they are open and accessible to those who are in need of justice. 

  • Women judges contribute far more to justice than just improving its appearance, they also have an impact on the decision-making and thus to the quality of the justice. 

  • They bring those lived experiences to the judicial actions that tend towards a more empathetic and comprehensive perspective. 

  • By elucidating how the laws can be based on gender stereotypes and how they have a different impact on men and women, a gender perspective uplifts the fairness of the adjudication. 

  • A change in the judicial culture can also have an effect on the litigants. A higher number of women judges might increase the willingness of women to seek justice and enforce their rights before the court of law. 

  • To be diverse, the judiciary needs representation of judges not only from different gender identities but also from different caste and religious backgrounds. For example, there have never been a Dalit or Adivasi women judge in the Supreme Court. 

A significant example of women representation is Justice Leila Seth, who served as the first woman judge in Delhi High Court and as a member of the 15th Law Commission of India, played an important role in bringing amendments to the Hindu Succession Act,1956, which secured the daughters’ right of inheritance over ancestral property. She was also a part of the Justice Verma Committee that was set up after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, which recommended speedy trials and strict punishments for sexual offences.


Considering the fact that the judges, irrespective of their opinions can lead towards or away from the feminists’ values, a strong argument can be made implying that gender discrimination needs to be abolished. The judiciary is an integral part of Indian democracy needs more female representation. For a country that has 48% of its population female, the judiciary system consists of less than 10% female judges, which is simply not enough.

About the Author: Antalina Guha | 29 Post(s)

Antalina Guha, is in the  5th year of B.A. LL.B course in Ajeenkya DY Patil University, with a core interest in Intellectual Property Rights and Criminal law.

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